What hap­pened to Wool­vett?

Hard luck fol­lowed ac­tor af­ter Un­for­given role

Calgary Herald - - Entertainm­ent - ERIC VOLMERS

It re­mains one of the most baf­fling dis­ap­pear­ances in Hol­ly­wood his­tory. In 1992, movie au­di­ences were in­tro­duced to Hamil­ton, Ont.-born ac­tor Jaimz Wool­vett. From seem­ingly out of nowhere, the then 24-year-old of­fered a stun­ning per­for­mance in Clint East­wood’s crit­i­cal and box of­fice jug­ger­naut, Un­for­given.

As the ar­ro­gant young killer the Scofield Kid, Wool­vett was forced to trans­form him­self from cocky and cold-blooded to with­ered and squea­mish in the film. His per­for­mance was hailed as a high­light in a movie full of A-list tal­ent, in­clud­ing East­wood, Gene Hack­man, Morgan Free­man and Richard Har­ris.

Then, as quickly as he had ap­peared, Wool­vett seemed to dis­ap­pear back into ob­scu­rity.

“The pre­miere was a re­ally big night,” says Wool­vett, who lives with his wife and two chil­dren in south­ern On­tario. “There were all th­ese fa­mous peo­ple around. There was the jets and limos to pick you up. It was like, OK, I could see how some­one could to­tally in­su­late them­selves in this. . . but I never bought into the stylists and pub­li­cists. . . they are big part of the whole ‘big star ma­chine.’ ”

Fif­teen years later, Wool­vett ac­knowl­edges his break­through role will prob­a­bly re­main the high mark of a ca­reer plagued by bad tim­ing, law­suits and, most re­cently, dev­as­tat­ing health prob­lems.

In 1991, Wool­vett was al­ready a vet­eran ac­tor in Canada when Warner Bros. be­gan hold­ing au­di­tions in Toronto. In a burst of Scofield-like cock­i­ness, Wool­vett de­cided not to au­di­tion for a bit part as he orig­i­nally planned and read in­stead for the meatier role of the novice gun­fighter. Six au­di­tions later, he landed the role and ar­rived in Al­berta to film the west­ern epic, Un­for­given.

With money in the bank and as­sum­ing he was a hot prop­erty, Wool­vett trav­elled to Los An­ge­les af­ter the shoot with his wife. Un­for­tu­nately, he ar­rived nearly a year be­fore any­one had seen Un­for­given. No­body knew who he was.

“We should have come out the year the movie pre­miered,” says Wool­vett. “But I didn’t have my busi­ness chaps. It was a to­tal mis­take on my part. But life is what it is.”

Even­tu­ally, Wool­vett signed on to a New Zealand TV show based on Jack Lon­don’s ad­ven­ture, White Fang.

“I was told not to do it, but I had been hit­ting the bank ma­chine for 14 months,” he says. “No­body wanted to give me work. They had not seen the movie.”

Wool­vett be­came tan­gled up in the New Zealand pro­duc­tion just as he should have been reap­ing the re­wards from his per­for­mance in Un­for­given. White Fang pre­vented him from star­ring in the Lone­some Dove TV se­ries, in a role that was ap­par­ently writ­ten with him in mind. Wool­vett even­tu­ally sued the com­pany be­hind White Fang for in­ter­fer­ing with the cast­ing and re­ceived a re­ported $3.2-mil­lion set­tle­ment. But much of the mo­men­tum was gone.

He con­tin­ued to work steadily as an ac­tor, mostly in indie dra­mas or Bmovies and television guest shots. The only other “big Hol­ly­wood” en­try in his fil­mog­ra­phy is the 1995 Hughes Brothers Viet­nam drama Dead Pres­i­dents.

But the drama wasn’t over. Nearly a decade af­ter his most fa­mous role, Wool­vett faced the big­gest trauma of his life.

“I woke up one morn­ing and it was if some­one had turned off a switch on my left ear,” he says. “My hear­ing was just gone over night.”

Af­ter a num­ber of tests, a brain tu­mour was dis­cov­ered. In 2001, he en­dured risky surgery to have it re­moved. He was later di­ag­nosed with avas­cu­lar necro­sis, a chronic and in­cur­able bone dis­ease.

Af­ter years of phys­io­ther­apy, Wool­vett says he is putting his name back out there in hopes of re­viv­ing his ca­reer, al­though he ad­mits his con­di­tion lim­its him to “less phys­i­cal” roles.

But even if he never lands an­other Scofield Kid, he says be­ing a part of one of the most in­flu­en­tial films of the 1990s will be enough.

“Just to say that you had the op­por­tu­nity to hang with Clint and Gene and Morgan and Richard in a west­ern and con­trib­ute to the film, how do you top that?” he says. “You know what? You don’t. It doesn’t mat­ter what else you do.”

David Clark, Can­West News Ser­vice

Actor Jaimz Wool­vett had a piv­otal role in Clint East­wood’s Un­for­given.

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